A new locally created sampler instrument, CHOMPI aims to make music production fun and accessible

click to enlarge A new locally created sampler instrument, CHOMPI aims to make music production fun and accessible
Tobias Hendrickson photos
CHOMPI looks to bring accessible production and sampling to music creators.

Making music production accessible and fun to all has been a longtime goal for Spokane husband-and-wife duo Tobias and Chelsea Hendrickson, even if they had to make the tools themselves. This prompted them to develop their own music sampler, CHOMPI.

The pair began developing CHOMPI, a compact and customizable music sampler, to provide people with a straightforward and accessible device that could introduce sound design basics to those with no prior experience.

The sampler — which bears Tobias' childhood nickname — has a built-in microphone, an array of fun lights and designs, and interchangeable keycaps and knobs that can be swapped out to allow for each user to customize their CHOMPI to their own needs. It also doesn't have a screen, making it more accessible for visually impaired users.

"You don't have to have vision to play the drums, you don't have to have vision to play guitar once you have muscle memory," says Tobias. "I wanted to make it an instrument and not a computer."

Both Tobias and Chelsea have been playing instruments since childhood, with Tobias growing up in an affluent, musical family with a recording studio and an array of instruments in their Spokane home.

"I was barely walking and playing synthesizers and stuff," he says. "I'm visually impaired, so part of how I interacted with my life was always centered around sound and music."

Music was always in Tobias' life, but he wanted CHOMPI to be accessible because he realized he didn't face certain barriers others had to deal with when learning to play instruments, such as financial constraints or not having enough time to take lessons.

"A lot of music education is based around having to learn all this theory before you can start having fun, and not everybody connects with that," says Tobias. "I never learned theory, I just did it because that was what was in front of me. I just like recording fun sounds and doing something with those sounds that made me feel connected to an emotion of some kind."

click to enlarge A new locally created sampler instrument, CHOMPI aims to make music production fun and accessible
Chelsea and Tobias Hendrickson show off their CHOMPI babies.

The couple's journey to create CHOMPI began decades ago. Chelsea and Tobias met as kids in Spokane, moved around together for collegiate studies in New Zealand and California, eventually got married, and finally moved back to Spokane. CHOMPI sprung forth from a variety of their past projects, one being Techno Logic, a synthesizer education program that the Hendricksons started after returning to the Lilac City.

The idea for creating a device like CHOMPI emerged for the Hendricksons in 2016. The pair would let Techno Logic participants play around with other samplers in order to gain feedback to find out what worked for them and what they enjoyed about the process.

"The process of capturing something you think sounds interesting and then being able to use that as a toy to make something, it was like this lightbulb moment for people across the spectrum," Tobias says. "It didn't matter if you have experience, it didn't matter if you were brand new, it was always fun."

"It's just always something that is engaging and it works with any kind of group," he continues. "And it was just clear from an education standpoint, [CHOMPI] was a solution to a problem I have been trying to figure out for a long time."

Just a few years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tobias began teaching music at Innovation High School. He would bring different music sampler instruments to the classroom, allowing students to play around with them and provide feedback on each instrument.

"At the end of the week, we could talk about it, and somebody would click with it, somebody would be like this is not for me, and I would take note of what worked and what didn't," he says. "When I talk to other people, especially other instrument designers, that's something that is so incredibly unique that I didn't realize I had because it was just naturally occurring."

Upon attending the National Association of Music Merchants show in Los Angeles in 2020, Tobias met the developers of Electrosmith's Daisy Seed, a small piece of hardware specifically designed for music production that became one of the main components that CHOMPI runs on.

A few months later, the pandemic sent everyone into lockdown. During that time Tobias underwent several surgeries for his vision that rendered him fully blind for about four months. It was also then that he and Chelsea started developing CHOMPI and creating code for the sampler to turn it into something that could become a tangible creation.

In the summer of 2022, the Hendricksons reached out to Electrosmith to get information on buying the Daisy Seeds for CHOMPI, and Electrosmith responded with interest in helping the couple create the product.

The pair created a Kickstarter campaign and organized a five- to 10-year business plan for CHOMPI, yet even before its launch they began receiving more attention than expected. Within the first minute of the Kickstarter's launch, the Hendricksons reached their goal of selling 50 to 60 devices. By the end of the week, they'd sold over 2,000 CHOMPIs.

Since then, the Hendricksons have begun selling CHOMPI on their website (chompiclub.com) and through retailers. They launched a Discord channel for CHOMPI users to share their music, ask questions about the sampler, and leave feedback for future models and updates.

The Hendricksons more recently launched a collaborative CHOMPI sampler with Chase Bliss, a company out of Minneapolis that produces pedals and digital circuits. A portion of proceeds are going to the Willie Mae Rock Camp, a free music laboratory for girls and gender-expansive youth in New York City.

Overall, the Hendricksons hope to support music education in schools with CHOMPI, and that it cultivates an inclusive community of musicians across the world.

"We want it to be inclusive, we want people to not be afraid to try, we want it to be fun," says Chelsea. "We're getting to be part of something that is so much bigger than what we ever realized it could be." ♦

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Sat., July 27, 5 p.m. and Sat., Aug. 10, 5 p.m.
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Summer Sandstrom

Summer Sandstrom is a former Inlander staff writer who has written about 176-year-old sourdough starter, tracking insects on Gonzaga’s campus, and her love of betta fish, among other things. She joined the staff in 2023 after completing a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Washington University...